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26.09.2005 Regional News

Increasing School Enrolment to Break Barriers of Poverty

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A GNA feature by Ms Josephine Naaeke

Accra, Sept. 26, GNA - Come with your children to school, government has announced a package for you and your children. This is the message Mrs Esther Faustina Ashong, Headmistress of Sempe Primary School, Accra, sent across to parents during the school's Parent-Teacher Association meeting to get parents to enrol their children in school. And this message achieved its objective, she said, as enrolment figures went up this academic year in both Sempe Two and 28th February Road Primary Schools in the locality.

Enrolment in the Sempe Primary School went up from 48 in the 2004/2005 academic year to 52 in 2005/2006 while it increased from 47 in the 2004/2005 to 53 in the 2005/2006 at the 28th February Road Primary School.

She said though the figures were not as high as was expected, they were encouraging and she was still expecting more children to be enrolled.

That is exactly what the Ministry of Education was driving at when it launched "My First Day at School" at the beginning of the 2005/06 academic year on September 13 to welcome Class One pupils to school. The 2005-2006 academic year began on Tuesday with effective implementation of the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) programme and the capitation grant policy for pupils in basic schools. The slogan adopted by parents at Sempe and 28th February Primary Schools is: "If I did not go to school my child should go." This is good news from the parents of Sempe.

It, however, sounds very funny when one comes to think of the fact that some people have to be convinced to send their children to school. Why? Because parents are the direct beneficiaries of their educated children and are expected to play the lead role in encouraging and convincing their children not only to go to school, but to "complete" their schooling.

Human resource development should be the hallmark of every government, and knowing the importance of a knowledgeable and strong human resource base to development, government is doing its best to persuade children to go to school.

However, it is disheartening that in this era some parents still do not seem to know the value of education. For them it is a waste of the little money they have.

Unfortunately, this kind of thinking exists in Accra, especially Nima and Chorkor, as the Mayor, Stanley Nii Agyiri Blankson found out. If this type of thinking exists in Accra, where majority of people are enlightened, what measures should be used to judge those who are in the remote and deprived villages.

The condition in some of these villages are appalling - schools are located very far from home and the distance alone could deter children from going to school. Children plod day in and day out without any transport.

It is, therefore, not surprising that many uneducated young girls from poor homes in the remote villages troop to the cities and towns in search of "greener pastures" and non-sustaining jobs.

In a chat in Accra with Fati, a young girl from Savelugu Nanton in the Northern Region who had finished her Senior Secondary School, she expressed regret that children, especially girls, were not going to school in the villages.

Fati is a volunteer with School for Life, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) that encourages school enrolment and enhances literacy with even over-aged children in the Northern Region. Her work is to go around the villages and towns to convince parents to allow their children to go to school. It instils in the children the essence of education and the opportunities that would be opened to them when they attend school.

According to her, some parents would agree to send their children to school but after some weeks withdraw them to come and help them on the farm or do other household chores.

To some parents, because they did not go to school their children too should suffer the same fate. The girls sit at home; they cannot go to school because their parents cannot cater for them in school. Fati says many girls also get pregnant while in school and that ends their education because their parents refuse to cater for them. For rendering her services and with her educational background Fati and three others are going on an exchange programme to Denmark. She says education is very dear because it would open a lot of opportunities for her and give her a brighter future. She is, therefore, trying hard to rewrite some of her papers and climb higher on the academic ladder.

The Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE) programme adopted in 1995 and being implemented this academic year is to help liberate parents from the headache of having to pay school fees. It is also to serve as the key that would unlock doors to education by making it easier for all, especially children of the poor majority, to go to school.

But if education is free and parents are still very sceptical about sending their children to school for various reasons, are we likely to achieve the goals of the Education For All (EFA) policy by the year 2015?

We could term it the policy of helping to raise the literacy level of the poor majority to some level.

Mr Yaw Osafo-Maafo, Minister of Education and Sports, during his turn at the meet the press series in Accra, said there had been very positive trends in pupils/student enrolment, retention and transition. According to him total enrolment at the public basic schools in 2004/05 stood at 3,698,479 while the private schools had a total enrolment of 1,189,953. Enrolment at the Senior Secondary School also continues to increase with 333,002 being enrolled in 2004/2005. Atthe tertiary level enrolment at the universities and polytechnics is growing rapidly, shooting up from 87,929 in 2003/2004 to 98,393 in 2004/2005. The numbers of students attending special institutions like schools for the blind and deaf have increased by 32 per cent since 2001. The Minister says continued focus must be on increasing female participation, which is currently 40 per cent. Under the non-formal education programme, some 300,000 learners would be enrolled by the end of the year. According to an UNESCO report, the goals of Education for All and two of the education-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are being threatened. It will be difficult to achieve the MDGs. It is heart-warming news that Ghana is the fifth out of 15 Sub-Saharan African countries to make gains in the early childhood care and education monitoring report of UNESCO in 2001. Under age specific data in 2001, the enrolment for pre-primary age three was 30 per cent; 33 per cent for four years; 40 per cent for five years, 20 per cent for six years and 12 per cent for children at seven years.

For primary school children, Ghana registered 46 per cent of age five children in school, 60 per cent of age six children and 70 per cent of age seven.

Currently, more than 100 million children in the world are still deprived of the right to education and roughly 800 million adults cannot read or write with the majority of them being women and girls. Severe illiteracy is, however, concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab states, South Asia and West Asia.

It is thus no wonder that UNESCO considers progress made so far as very slow to achieve the goals by 2015 when net enrolments in schools all over the world are expected to reach 87 per cent by the targeted year.

The figure is below 70 per cent in many Sub-Saharan countries and UNESCO believes the targets could only be achieved through free and compulsory primary education and increased funding to basic schools. But what happens after the free education at the basic level? Poor, needy but brilliant students need funds to enable them to continue their education to the highest level. But how many of such needy students get such opportunities?

There is pressure on governments to build more schools, invest in teachers' training and learning materials.

All these point to the fact that education is very important to the development of nations and more attention should be paid to the sector for it to achieve its intended goals.